MEDIA: BEHIND THE HYPE - Hopes of Experience rest on its founders' abilities

The new communications planning agency reckons it can do well, Ian Darby says.

The experience you go through in a room with the three founders of the communications planning agency Experience is not entirely unpleasant.

After all, as James Whitmore, one of the three founders of the agency, says: "We aren't known for our big egos. We're easy and enjoyable to work with."

But, in an evolving communications planning market that already contains at least four competing specialist agencies, will the Experience experience prove compelling enough for clients?

Whitmore, an ex-managing director of Mediaedge:cia, who left the agency last July, and Greg Turzynski, a recent managing director of ZenithOptimedia, have teamed up with the former OMD UK and Mediaedge:cia planner David Reid to create the agency.

Experience aims to provide advice on how to "contact and engage target audiences to deliver business objectives". It claims it will be accountable, able to collaborate with creative and media buying agencies and will have no vested interests to protect.

Quite similar in positioning, then, to existing agencies such as Naked and Rise. So its success will be determined, in the absence of some mysterious black-box planning product, by the skills of the people involved.

Experience argues that there is a natural balance between the three partners: Whitmore and Reid are from a planning background, while Turzynski, a TV buyer by trade, will bring understanding of real-world buying expertise and management.

The trio, already working on their first client (though they won't talk about it) from offices loaned by the outdoor company Alban, attract nice comments from their peers but few testimonies to suggest they possess scintillating powers that advertisers will struggle to find elsewhere.

Simon Mathews, Turzynski's former boss at Optimedia and the founder of Rise Communications, says of his former colleague: "He's gone through the process of transforming himself into something more than a TV buyer. There are not many at similar agencies, including myself, Jon Wilkins and John Harlow at Naked, who have Greg's experience of the TV market."

The view of Whitmore and Reid seems to be that they're nice blokes and bloody good media planners but that their struggle will come in getting in front of clients to convince them of this.

Experience has already had success working with at least one creative agency on a pitch and claims media agencies won't have a problem collaborating.

But some of the larger players are sceptical that it can fulfil its ambitions of working with clients on issues directly relating to wider business concerns.

Rob Norman, the chairman of Mediaedge:cia, has just launched the WPP planning unit, Nylon. He says: "You can say what you like about big agency groups but you've got a lot around you in terms of 'heavy lifting' statistical analysis. The thinking that a boutique model can do something that big agencies can't is bizarre."

Rival agencies such as Naked assert that the creation of more rival agencies will help grow their market, but the doubters argue that there could be testing times ahead for the independents.

Nick Manning, the chief executive of Manning Gottlieb OMD, says: "There has been no successful independent start-up in recent times. Most that are doing well have had some kind of support. Naked had Mother and Walker Media had M&C Saatchi. We had Simons Palmer and Carat early on. The market is a cold, hard place when you're starting out."

But Experience is confident that this hard place is one in which it can thrive. "It's always difficult to set up a company, especially because the market is over-supplied and competitive. But that's no reason not to do it," Whitmore says.

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